Monochrome and The Absence of Color

In our world full of bright colors, it’s not often that we come across an absence of color in our daily lives. Monochromatic color can be described as a single base hue and its extensive shades, tones, and tints. There are many black and white websites. In fact, the different shades and tones can be achieved by adding black to create individual hues. In contrast, tints are achieved by adding white to the base hue and extending the tints from there.

Though monochrome means one base color and its different shades or tints, it’s usually seen as being synonymous with black and white. Many refer to it as grayscale and usually see it as an absence of color and focus on tints and shades.


The darker shades on the monochromatic grayscale can also be used to sign a power of law or authority. In many countries, the color black is worn by judges and lawmakers. Historically the uniforms of those in power consisted of primarily black until they switched to less menacing colors.

The lighter tints in these monochromatic scales usually symbolize life and death or can be a sign of opening a new passage in life. For example, ghosts, phantoms, and even the two horsemen of the apocalypse symbolize or take form in the color white. Weddings and births also are prominent when talking about the symbolism of the tinted white. It usually comes off as a sign of cleanliness or new beginnings.

Though the white tint is usually used to symbolize innocence, it has also historically been used in political movements. White can be associated with monarchism, like in France. Racist and anti-immigrant groups can also use it like the KKK. It can also make a passive statement. The white ribbons are worn to denounce violence against women and even the White Rose, a non-violent resistance group during Nazi Germany.

Monochrome Art

The Joconde smoking pipe by Sapeck, in Le Rire, 1887

Though monochrome artwork has been around for a long time, people usually understand monochromatic painting to have began in Moscow. With the Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich and his Suprematist Composition: White on White. As decades passed, many new artists came and changed what was viewed as monochrome art and put their own twists on it.

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915

New York had its fair share of abstract expressionists that used monochrome. Ad Reinhardt was an abstract expressionist and earned a name for himself by painting nearly “pure” monochromes over his career, whether in red, blue, and most popularly black. Ad Reinhardt’s work comprised of geometric indications with his preferred shades and hues.

Abstract Piece by Ad Reinhardt

Some minimalist artists take on monochromatic themes in their paintings. Agnes Martin often did this by painting typically white or off-white canvases and having faint marks of pencil lines across the painted surface. Another minimalist artist that took a liking to monochrome paintings was Brice Marden. He had a more formalistic approach, with works often being in gray tones and the slightest gradient.

Brice Marden, The Dylan Painting, 1966

Neo-Dada and pop art artists have also tried monochrome. Robert Rauschenberg, for example, became known for his white, black, and even red monochrome canvases. Jasper Johns, a friend, and fellow neo-dada artist of Robert Rauschenberg, also made many monochrome paintings. His work consisted more of the color white and off whites, and there was an absence of the darker shades. But both these artists embodied the approach of monochromatism through the typical brush works and used the signature melancholic gray works from the era and added texture or texts.

While New York was pushing new artists throughout the years, Europe was also following behind. Gerhard Richter, a German artist, has some world-renowned monochrome works. The monochrome works usually present in pessimistic pieces and are made by drawing expressive gestures on wet paint. A Swiss painter named Olivier Mosset undertook a series of monochrome paintings. He used these paintings to form a radical painting group and used his monochrome works to make an implied radical social stance.

A fun moment in history where a monochromatic painting took center stage would be in the 1998 Tony awards, where the Broadway play “Art” deployed a white monochrome painting as a prop. This was done to encourage arguments/disagreements on the aesthetics that made up a good portion of the play.


Many animals in the animal kingdom are also reduced to this kind of vision. They are called monochromats. Some mammals that exhibit these conditions would be raccoon and kinkajous, along with a few rodents. However, it’s not only limited to those on land. Many sea mammals also are considered monochromats, such as seals, sea lions, walruses, dolphins, and even whales. So, while we enjoy monochromatism from time to time, others that are monochromats or have monochromacy are always seeing the world in shades and tints.

Appeal of Monochrome

Many artists use monochrome to reduce the work into its simplest form so that the focus is purely on its physical elements, such as in its color, texture, or the way it was created. Another purpose of using monochromatic art would be to have clear color schemes that keep audiences engaged. This means that the audience can solely focus on what the art is trying to say and truly understand the theme without distracting audiences from bright, flashy colors.

Monochrome color palettes work for several reasons. The concept of monochrome is not limited to only one type of design. This is why it’s usually a favorite for interior designers as well as many web developers.

Some benefits of using a monochrome color palette would be the sense of harmony it brings. Sticking to a single base hue and its tints and shades bring cohesiveness to the piece. Another benefit would be the simplicity of the design. It would be easy to make, and there you would never have to worry about colors clashing. Monochrome aesthetics also give a minimalistic style and allows the content to shine through.

Monochrome also is inclusive. It allows those with color blindness some accessibility benefits. Monochromatic allows contrasting elements to be seen as well. Another appeal of monochromatism is the impression it leaves, especially with a strong or unique base color.

Creating Monochrome

Another helpful tip to keep in mind when discussing creating your own monochromatic work is to keep things simple. This gives users more time to absorb all the information without being distracted by the onslaught of information. Almost monochromatic designs are also a great thing to remember when trying to get one’s attention. This allows for the majority of the content to stay monochrome and allows room for a pop of color to capture your audience.


Monochromatic themes are all around us, in art, nature, and web pages we choose to visit. They are a simple and effective option for brands both big and small. Whether it’s an interior designer, online marketer, or web designer monochrome can be a source of motivation for artists, especially when they want to make a statement. Monochromatic color schemes are a great first impression and spark the interests of the audience. It’s fun to play around with and explore all the different color variants. Overall, monochromatic color schemes are timeless, and the options are measureless.

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